Courtesy of Jenn Longoria
Jenn Longoria served as served as Texas deputy director for Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign and as Texas director of Elizabeth Warren’s presidential run.
Longtime San Antonio political operative Jenn Longoria this month joined Jolt Action, one of the state’s foremost Latinx civic-engagement organizations, where she’ll steer its statewide voter registration and voter mobilization strategies.
Previously, Longoria served as served as Texas deputy director for Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign and as Texas director of Elizabeth Warren’s presidential run. Her decade of organizing experience also includes work for Barack Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaigns, along with state and municipal races.
We caught up with Longoria, who will remain based in San Antonio, to ask about her work with Jolt and how participation by young Latinx voters can reshape Texas politics.
You take on this role as the Texas Legislature prepares to pass a bill that voting-rights groups argue is all about suppressing votes of people of color. Do you see your work at Jolt as a counterbalance to that legislation?
I mean, it was a tough season, and I think organizations like Jolt are going to be working overtime to make sure that we are talking to young people and talking to potential voters about how these laws affect them. We’ve had to deal with issues like this before, and we’re just going to organize our way out of it. We’re going to make sure that we are talking to young people — that’s what Jolt does best — so that we’re building a movement of Latinos across Texas that’s focusing on young Latino voter turnout, and the numbers are there. So, it is going to be a tough hill to climb, but we’re capable of it, and we’re a progressive organization in Texas, so we’re just going to do the work.
This session, the GOP forced through a lot of bills feeding into the culture war. Does that divisive legislative agenda help you make the case to young voters that they need to be more engaged?
Overall, Jolt’s mission is just to make sure we’re empowering young Latinos and helping them get into places where they understand how powerful their vote is. So, yes, having that session to talk about and letting people know what they’re up against is a little bit of a motivation, and it can set a fire under people that are fighting for equality and fighting for easier access to voting rights.
How does your experience with national campaigns figure into the work you’ll be doing with Jolt?
The experience I’ve had has really helped me see Texas for what it is. It’s huge. It’s unwieldy. And we know that Latinos in Texas are not a monolith. We know that we have to be talking to people across Texas in different regions. But also, that experience has helped me see where we need some extra help and where we’ve got a strong base. ... I was drawn to organizing because of my really strong beliefs in voter registration and access to voting. I want to make sure that people’s voices for communities of color are heard and that we’re really fighting for those people. … That experience helped, because I really have a broad overview of what the electorate in Texas looks like. I know where to drill down, and I’m excited to be able to do that with Jolt.
There’s been talk for years that demographics are shifting Texas purple, but that sure didn’t happen in 2020. How do we know that there are really enough folks out there who are willing to be engaged in the political process to substantially change election results in Texas?
One thing that I have learned in campaigns is that, typically, large campaigns will engage with the Latino community at the tail end of the campaign or when they want to buffer those numbers and shore up a few extra votes. And so many times that Latino outreach isn’t as pervasive as it should be. It’s not as from-the-ground-up as it should be. So, what we want to do at Jolt is make sure that we are talking to Latinos all throughout the year, all throughout the process, so that it’s not just coming to those communities at the last minute to ask for votes when we hadn’t been there the whole time. We want to offer them leadership opportunities and education opportunities so that we are actually empowering people to take charge politically and with the system. Campaigns will come in, look for votes where they can, where they’re easy to find, and they’re going to be dictated by resources and money. And Jolt’s motivation is empowering community. So, I think those are two things where one serves the other. The work we’re doing with Jolt will eventually help out progressive candidates or candidates that align with the issues that Latinos really care about.
On that note, political experts argue that the gains along the Texas border by Trump and other right-wing candidates could come down to Latinx voters feeling like they’ve been neglected by the Democratic Party. Do you think there’s been permanent damage there?
I don’t think that we’re too far down that road to correct. I think that it’s true when we talk about Texas being a battleground state or when we talk about having to fight for every vote. I think the fact that we’re having to contest races where we never had a chance before is a great sign, but on the flip side of that coin, we are going to have to work for every vote in all communities. We aren’t going to be able to take Latino votes for granted. We’re going to have to make sure that we’re listening to them and really talking about the issues they care about. And I think it was a good wake up call to see that this is not a done deal in the Valley.
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